Friday, March 19, 2010

In which Primo and I have our first date, only he doesn't think it's a date so he doesn't pay

Y'all, I am running out of Sly and Doris stories and I am not particularly eager to accompany Primo on his forced march to their place in April just to get new material, although I will if he really wants me to go. He did promise I would not have to visit them in all of 2010, but I love him and he is kind of miserable when he goes there, so despite the promise, if he wants me to go, I will. Anyhow, I am resorting to plain Primo and moi stories because I like writing here. I hope they don't bore anyone.

November 2005 It's been a few weeks since Primo and I met. I always say we met on November 11, which is the day I blew him off at the party where the hosts had photos of chairman Mao hanging on the wall and the one host said that he didn't understand why his Chinese co-worker got upset about the Mao poster hanging in his office and I wanted to say, "I guess it couldn't be that Mao caused the death of like 30 million people and maybe some of them were her family," but I was being polite so I kept my mouth shut. Sometimes maybe I shouldn't be so polite.

Primo likes to say we met on November 12 because November 11 is the anniversary of his wedding to Isabel. And because we didn't really talk on November 11, I guess I can go with November 12.

We have been emailing like crazy people since we met. Primo asks Sam for my email that reunion weekend and writes to me. I answer his email promptly because I am no good at The Rules and then Primo does not write back for THREE DAYS.


I think he has blown me off and I'm mad at myself for responding to his email at all and I spend THREE DAYS being really, really stressed. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I should not have answered his email or at least not answered it right away. Have I learned nothing in my 20+ years of dating?

Apparently not.

Then he answers. Oh, he is busy working.

Uh huh. Like he couldn't write a simple email?

Actually, he can't. Write a simple email, that is.

He writes again and keeps writing and he writes so well. His emails are long and chatty and well written, as they should be, what with Sly being an English prof and all. I discover the Dark Side of Primo's punctiliousness later, when I will ask him to email someone to ask a quick question and he doesn't want to. "Just send an email!" I will say. "How hard can it be?"

Oh, if you have to have a salutation and a little small talk on every note, which means it takes you 15 minutes to compose an email to ask someone, "What time does the party start?" then it can be pretty hard.

But while we are email dating, it is nice to get long emails.

Then he tells me that he is going to be in my city on a layover on the way to his mom and dad's house. Would I like to have lunch?

Well OK. I've just been laid off from my job, although I am still working until the end of the year. I don't really care if I take an afternoon off. What are they going to do? Fire me?

I pick him up at the airport. I take him to one of my favorite restaurants. We talk. Oh, he's cute and sexy.

The check arrives.

He does not pay!

I am shocked. After six years of living in The South, I know the rules. Even on a blind date (of which I had several, thanks to my fairy godmothers), the man pays. I gave up trying to pay my own share because the men were so insulted.

Does he not know the rules? Why doesn't he pay?

He tells me later that he didn't think it was a date because you know I was still involved with Gomez, the Moroccan millionaire.

Oh please. Like I would have picked Primo up at the airport and spent all afternoon with him just to be nice?

This was about S-E-X, baby.

I take him back to the airport and he hugs me.


I do not do hugs with people I barely know, especially people who do not buy me lunch when it's a date. No pay, no play.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In which Primo tells me he wants me to be nicer to Doris

December 2009 We are driving to the airport after our years with Sly and Doris. Oh wait. Was it just a few days? OK, it just seemed like years. Primo and I are fighting. About what?

The usual.

His parents.

We really don't fight over money because we are both tightwads, although I am a far bigger tightwad than he, but we fight about Sly and Doris. And politics and religion, but those are in-theory fights. Sly and Doris have practical applications. As in Primo really is zero sum with them. In a lot of families, a new in-law is seen as an addition to the family. My mother certainly sees Primo that way - he is not taking her daughter away from her, he is just someone new to welcome to our clan.

Sam and Nadine consider Sam's dad's lady friend to be part of their family still, even though Sam's dad is dead. Mr SD dated Anya for three years. You don't throw away someone who has been part of your family that way just because the blood connection is gone. You say, "Anya. We are still expecting you to come to our kid's bar mitzvah and we will arrange for someone to drive you." You even find a way to help her out financially because she needs it and you can and you know your dad would have wanted it. Anya is just another person to add to the guest list when there is a party. Win/win.

But for Sly and Doris, I am a thief. I am not an addition to their family. I have taken their Only Joy from them. Every moment he spends with me is a moment they don't get. I guess they missed the part of the "How to be decent in-laws" class when they taught that if the daughter in law actually likes and gets along with the in-laws, she will spend more time there.

If that's how they want to play the game, fine.

So Primo and I fight about who gets his time. I tell him that he doesn't need to call them every week. That an email should be fine. He tells me they are needy and lonely. I tell him it's their own fault for alienating their neighbors and not making friends and hey, don't they have another son and grandchildren right there?

But now we are fighting over a specific issue: why am I not nicer to Doris?

"What do you mean?" I ask. "I am nice to her. I cleaned her refrigerator. I helped with the cooking. I tried to have conversations with her."

"But you're not sympathetic to her," Primo answers.



I am not.

Doris is whiny. Yes, she has legitimate aches and pains that inhibit her daily functioning and I do what I can to help her get around those, but she wants to whine to me about them. As in, she wants to apologize repeatedly for not being able to do the things that she used to be able to do and have me reassure her.

Doris. I know you can't do these things any more. I get it. But you only have to tell me once. I am not going to give you repeated reassurance. When I was cleaning the fridge, she started in with her usual apologies. I took out my mp3 earbud, gave her The Hand of Stop Talking, and said, "Stop. I don't want to hear it." And I meant it. I hope she took it as an, "Oh don't give it a second thought" kind of thing, which it mainly was, but I really and truly did not want to hear it.

Primo tells me that I am being mean for not listening to his mother whine.

I tell him that that's not my job.

"I am not your mother's friend," I tell him. "If she wants to complain, she can call a friend."

"She doesn't have any friends," Primo says.

Oh really?

"Too bad," I say. "I have my sister and my mother and my friends and I will listen to them whine. But they've already banked good times with me. So by the time they get to the whining, they have built up a balance. Plus, it's a reciprocal relationship. I whine back to them. I am not going to whine to your mother."

Primo is not satisfied. "You could be nicer."

"I am cordial to her."

"That's not enough."

"I don't care. I am cordial, polite and helpful. They don't get any more from me."

We stomp into the airport with the fight unresolved to find that our flight has been delayed several hours and we might not make our connection home. Suddenly, we are united by the joint terror that we might have to spend another night with Sly and Doris. The fear is enough to make us forget the fight. Nothing like a common enemy to pull people together.

In which we go to Sam's dad's memorial service and we wonder if anyone would come to a service for Sly

We arrive in The City where Sam and Nadine live and where Sly and Doris lived until they moved a few years ago. I like The City. I would live there. It's a mid-size city with a lot to offer: pretty neighborhoods, good food, and good friends. Primo even considered moving there after he left Isabel, but Sly and Doris were still there, along with his mentally-ill drug addict sister, Nancy, and he did not want to get caught up in The Drama. His parents had already said they were moving away, but Primo was pretty sure that if he told them he was moving back to The City, they would have stayed there. I don't think I could have married him if his parents had lived in the same city. Five states away is not far enough.

So. We are in TC. Sam, Primo and I have left the memorial service in Sam's car. Nadine and the kids are in another car. We drive past Primo's old house. The one his parents, who are against school vouchers, bought because it was in the school district they liked for Primo. The house after they sued to get him in another school district because theirs did not offer the programs they wanted for Primo. But heaven forbid someone with less money to buy in a better district, without the education to know to sue, have access to better opportunities for his children. Let them move house, Sly and Doris would say.

I digress.

Sam has known Sly almost as long as he has known Primo. He met Primo on the plane to their freshman year of college. We are talking about Sly and how he is different from Sam's dad. Sam's dad was gruff, but nice underneath. Sly is not like that.

Primo tells the story of the watercolor cartoon he found and bought for Sly several years ago.

"It's just like my dad," he says. "The guy has his nose in the air and is looking down. The caption says, 'I'm not arrogant. I just happen to be right.' When my dad saw it, he got really mad. Really mad. My mom had to change the caption to 'We're not arrogant. We just happen to be right.'"

Sam says, "Your dad needs to get a sense of humor. I hate it when people can't laugh at themselves."

Laughing at himself would not be one of Sly's core competencies.

Later that evening, Primo asks me if I think 80 people would show up for his dad's memorial service like showed up for Sam's dad.

I say carefully, "Your dad doesn't live here any more."

Primo agrees, but we both know that even if he did, Sly would not get that kind of turnout.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In which the maid leaves flowers for us

December 2009 We are at Sly and Doris' for our forced visit. Yay. When we walk into the guest room, I notice a flower in a vase on the dresser. Wow. Doris has never put out flowers for us before. I might have to re-think my attitude about her hospitality, with my attitudes being formed by having to bring our own lunch and their unwillingness to buy the canned diet Dr Pepper, which they did not do because they didn't want all the leftover cans after we were gone.

Kind of like I did not want all that leftover Lactaid. Just saying.

Anyhow. Flowers. Nice! I have done many things in my life that I am ashamed of. In high school, I was mean to Kelly C. after Sally D. decided that we were no longer going to be friends with Kelly. I wanted Sally's approval more than I cared about Kelly's feelings, so I was mean to Kelly. A year later, Sally decided she wasn't going to be friends with me, so there I was, hoist on my own petard or whatever. What goes around. You know. In my defense, I will say that I sought Kelly out at our 20-year high school reunion and apologized to her. She, graciously, denied remembering a thing. But I would remember if someone had been mean to me like that.

I have also eaten leftovers in the fridge at work. Yes. Awful. But on those nights that I had to work late and that white styrofoam container with restaurant leftovers had been in the fridge for three days, I figured the original owner had forgotten about it. I did this twice and am now mortified that I ever thought it was OK. Shame, shame, shame. Shame!

But one thing I do pride myself on, rightly or wrongly, is that I am usually a decent hostess. I provide my houseguests with a comfortable, clean place to stay and feed them well. I try to do the little things that make the room even nicer: I put out bottled water and chocolate. I put out current magazines. I keep shampoo in the shower and those little hotel soaps because really, doesn't it gross you out just a little bit to use soap that someone else has used? I am not usually squeamish, but that's one of my Things. The soap. Yes, I usually rinse it and it's OK, but for guests who share my delicate sensibilities, I like to offer them an option.

And in the summer, I cut flowers from my garden and put them in the guest room and the guest bathroom. It's nice. It costs nothing and makes the place nice.

So I am so pleased to see that Doris has finally started thinking of us as guests and not as an unpaid maid and garage cleaning service. She cuts a hibiscus from the bush in her front yard, sticks it in a vase, and puts it in our room. I am impressed.

And I comment so to Doris. How sweet it is of her to put the flower there.

Oh, she tells me. The cleaning lady did that.

Of course.